Why Watergate Was More Insane Than Any Political Drama on TV

 

The world has never been more interested in political dramas. Shows like House of Cards and American Crime Story seem to dominate viewers' minds and discussions of late. Countless political documentaries are burning up Netflix. And that’s to say nothing of the very real, very dramatic political escapades that are currently going on in the actual White House. However, the best political drama in American history is already long since in the rearview mirror. The scandal surrounding the Watergate break-in, and the subsequent cover-up and investigation that followed it, included the kind of dramatics that would put even Frank Underwood to shame.

 

What started with a seemingly simple burglary at the Watergate Hotel soon spiraled into a complex and convoluted conspiracy that reached all the way to the president at the time, Richard Nixon. It was mainly the dogged reporting of two young Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, that unraveled the whole thing, and in doing so they brought down an entire administration. Their book on the subject, All The President’s Men, has all the markings of a political thriller novel but, best of all, it actually happened. Even the highlights of the story are enough to send one’s head spinning.

 

Photo:

  • It All Started With Duct Tape

    It All Started With Duct Tape
    Photo: Florian Hirzinger / via Wikimedia Commons

    The entirety of the Watergate scandal would not have occurred if not for the improper placement of duct tape. On the night of the burglary, in January of 1972, five burglars snuck into some Democratic Party rooms in the Watergate Hotel in order to steal secret campaign-related documents and wiretap the Democrats' phones. They planned to do this by leaving duct tape on some key doors, thus not allowing the doors to lock. This procedure normally calls for placing vertical strips of tape, so that the strips are not visible, but the burglars placed the strips horizontally instead.

    A night watchman found the tape and removed it, thinking nothing of it. When he noticed the tape had returned on his second walkthrough, though, he became suspicious and called the police. The jig was up.

  • A “Third-Rate Burglary” Turned Into Much More

    Immediately, the Nixon administration categorized the incident as nothing more than a “third-rate burglary.” They weren’t exactly wrong, but in doing so, they were trying to draw attention away from a much larger and more widespread issue. The break-in itself was ultimately rather inconsequential. The espionage program that the break-in was a part of, however, and the lengths to which the Nixon administration went to cover it up, were much more important. This one tiny incident was just the springboard to discovering a whole bunch of wrongdoing on the part of Nixon and his cronies. It was simply the first time they'd been caught red-handed.

  • Hugh Sloan's Conscience Drove Him To Tip Off Reporters

    Before anything could happen with the Watergate investigation, someone needed to tip reporters off that more than a simple burglary was afoot. In the midst of all this political maneuvering, one man’s conscience got the better of him and led to him providing reporters with some key information. The man’s name was Hugh Sloan, a former White House aide and the Treasurer of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

    When Sloan caught wind of what was going on in the White House, he decided to resign, partly due to pressure from his wife to “do the right thing.” Doing the right thing eventually included speaking to Woodward and Bernstein about what he knew, which was the first indication the reporters received of a larger conspiracy taking place.

  • Woodward Held A Series Of Top Secret Meetings With "Deep Throat"

    Woodward Held A Series Of Top Secret Meetings With "Deep Throat"
    Photo: Warner Bros.

    By far the most colorful character to come out of the entire Watergate scandal was the enigmatic and mysterious “Deep Throat.” The anonymous informant, named after an incredibly popular pornographic film of the era, was an old acquaintance of Woodward who had become a trusted source.

    Deep Throat only spoke to Woodward under conditions of the highest secrecy, and this paranoid behavior increased as the Watergate investigation heated up. Woodward would signal meetings, which always took place in an underground parking garage, by placing a red flag in a potted plant on his balcony. If a meeting had to be changed, Deep Throat would leave a special message in Woodward’s daily newspaper. Woodward would often have to take multiple cabs and walk a few blocks to each meeting, just to ensure he wasn’t being tailed.

  • Deep Throat's Real Identity

    Deep Throat's Real Identity
    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

    The real identity of Deep Throat was once one of journalism’s most guarded secrets. Woodward let Bernstein in on the scoop, but very few others were ever aware of who the mysterious yet integral source ever was. The truth of the matter was not revealed until more than three decades after Watergate wrapped up in 1973.

    In 2005, former FBI special agent and deputy director Mark Felt confirmed that he had been Deep Throat, and Woodward corroborated his story. Felt’s high-ranking position in the FBI helped explain both how he had gained such excellent information, and why he was so careful about who he shared it with.

  • A Nixon Spokesman Bragged About Faking The "Canuck Letter" - To A Reporter

    A Nixon Spokesman Bragged About Faking The "Canuck Letter" - To A Reporter
    Photo: US Department of State / via Wikimedia Commons

    Over the years that made up the Watergate investigation, Woodward and Bernstein chased countless leads from countless sources. Some stories, however, just fell into their laps. Such was the case with the infamous “Canuck Letter,” a forged document that purportedly showed Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie using anti-Canadian racial slurs. The letter, though fake, sunk Muskie’s career, and many suspected that the Nixon campaign had something to do with it.

    It turned out that one of Woodward and Bernstein’s former co-workers at the Washington Post, Ken Clawson, had written the letter and that, even better, he had casually bragged about it to then-current Washington Post writer Marilyn Berger over dinner. Berger passed on the tip to Woodward and Bernstein, who couldn’t believe their luck.